Monday, August 25, 2008

Alaska Journey #5 - July 25, 2008 7:00 AM

Yesterday was a long day. We finally settled in to bed at 1:30 AM. Over 20 hours after I awoke. For breakfast we went with Nate to the Village Inn. We had an amazing talk about releasing all control to God. Everyone shared stories of being out of control and being drawn closer to the heart of God in the process.

Peter talked about past guide trips when he and other guys almost lost their lives and how those guys were forever changed. He shared his desire to take men into dangerous places and show them the power of God.

I shared about how I came to the end of all self-reliance on November 18th last year.

And then Nate shared. For the first time in my life I learned more about Alaska than I wanted to know! That story will stay carved in my mind for the rest of my life!

(Let me make sure I'm clear that I'm sharing this story from memory and the details may not be 100% accurate)

It has been 3 years since Nate lost 3 nieces... age 7, 11, and 13. When anyone loses 3 nieces, then that obviously means that 2 parents lost 3 children. Living in bush Alaska means that your allegiance for transportation shifts from cars and SUVs to Bush Planes. They are a way of life, not a luxury. Hence, along with air transportation come plane crashes, and I learned that there are a lot of them. In comparison to the number of flights, crashes are few and far between, but a plane crash is a plane crash.

Jeremy, Michelle and their 3 girls were making a routine trip into the city, something that happens quite often and routinely. One of the many uncontrollable aspects of Alaska is the weather. It can turn on a dime. On this particular day, just minutes from home, this young family was caught in a whiteout blizard that came from nowhere, and came quickly. As Jeremy, who currently has thousands of hours in the air, tried to find a place to bring the plane down he thought he was coming out of it and found the plane skidding on its belly along the frozen lake. It seemed they would skid to a complete stop without too much harm when the ice broke and the plane plunged under icy waters about 900 feet deep.

Jeremy is a mans man and calm under these circumstances. He began to try to unbuckle himself and his girl sitting in the front. His efforts were fruitless.

In the meantime, Michelle found herself standing on the icy lake next to a giant hole in the ice without any idea how she got there.

As Jeremy plunged 30 feet uner water he grabbed for his leatherman, cut his seatbelt and shares that it felt like this giant hand grabbed him and pulled him with lightening speed to the surface. This is when he realized the life of his 3 precious little girls came to an end!

Michelle tried to pull him out of the icy waters and after a couple more breaks they found themselves saying goodbye together to 3 of their 6 children.

Michelle knew of a cabin close by. They began to walk across the frozen lake and hypothermia began to set in for Jeremy. First tunnel vision and then near collapse. Michelle steadied him and they made it to the cabin to find a fireplace ready to be lit. They warmed and rested and mourned for a couple hours and then radioed for help.

This story cut me to the bone like none I'd ever heard! With 3 kids of my own, I can't imagine the moment that Jeremy had to make the decision to cut his own belt and leave those girls behind for the sake of his 3 remaining boys.

I cried sitting at that breakfast table. We left.

We slept in one of those girls beds last night! A new baby at rest a floor above us. Noah (New hope) Jesse (God exists) is his name. Not a replacement by any means, but a symbol of a promise for sure!

I heard more stories of death due to the wildness of this place than I cared to hear yesterday!

After breakfast we were off to finish buying supplies for the trek. Nate loaned us his truck. When we returned with our fresh supplies, we helped Nate hang his new trophy bear from the season above his stairwell, packed our gear, and hopped in for a short ride to Ellis Airfield for our departure from Anchorage on an 8 seater Caravan to Port Alsworth on Lake Clark.

We arrived to find our pilot waiting on us at the gate. Peters cousin-in-law, Lyle. He recently tried to summit McKinley. A day from the summit, he was waiting for the couple ahead of him to summit when he heard screams and found both of them falling not too far away. One of them died in the fall, the other would be sustained by Park Rangers for 2 days until a helicopter could get in and would die shortly after. The summit would have to wait.

He told us there was a hole in the exhaust of the plane and we'd be delayed 45 minutes. 45 minutes later, after a Tuna sub from Subway, we found that the Caravan plane would not return to Port Alsworth that day.

Nate was going over and had 1 extra seat. I waited another hour for him while Peter hopped on another shuttle company's plane.

The next 2 hours held some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery I've ever laid eyes on. From a birdseye view, moose and black and brown bear abound around Cook Inlet. The bears were feasting on the recent arrival of red Salmon, while the moose grazed in the meadows and along the shorelines.

The colors were absolutely breathtaking. More shades of green than anything you could imagine. Along with the bluish moutains and glaciers and the brown tundra it was literally BREATHTAKING.

I came to know Nate as intimately as any stranger before and I saw South Alaska like few from the anywhere else ever get to see it!

After we dove down for views of several bears and moose, we spotted a giant bull moose with a rack I couldn't believe. We wanted a second look. Nate circled around and swooped down to a crows view of the massive beast before we climbed again. An hour and a half of a small plane and a camera to my face didn't settle well with my stomach! That's when I lost it! The 6 inch tuna, my snack of smoked cashews, and every ounce of arrogant pride I had left in me exited my body! I rode the remainder of the trip (30 minutes) sitting in my own vomit!

The arrival to PA was beyond anything I could have imagined! The turn in the pass that revealed majestic Lake Clark was unbelievable.

Nate talked to me about a nearby Native Village and shared the layout of PA and then our final descent to find his wife and a couple others waving at us as we touched down on the runway. I couldn't help but to think of (Jim) Elliot and (Nate) Saint in the rainforest of Ecuador!

I scrubbed vomit out of the plane while Peter and Nate fueled up for a scouting trip over our destination. Once again I found my stomach playing duck-duck-goose as we circled to find the best route and fishing spots.

Back at the house, Peter and I finished our day with a washload of vomit clothes, a meal of Moutain House lasagna, and our last night in a warm bed. I took my final hot shower this morning. Next, we hop on a boat to take the couple mile trip across Lake Clark to Kijik river and lake.

This is a picture of the place where I sat to write this entry.

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